02 July 2013

Two interesting Decisions on Patent Eligibility of Software Inventions in the US

On the ksnh::law blog, two postings were recently published that comment on interesting decisions of US courts with respect to patent eligibility of software inventions under 35 U.S.C. § 101.

The posting "US Patent revoked as being non-technological and unpatentably abstract – But what is the Difference?" comments on the SAP v. Versata case decided by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board under the Covered Business Methods review program, while the posting "Business Method patentable as Claims show technological Advance – How would Europe decide?" relates to the Federal Cicuit's decision in the case Ultramerical v. Hulu.

Both cases relate to - from a European perspective pure - business method patents but with very different outcome. While the PTAB found that Versata's patent US 6,553,350 relates to an abstract idea as the claims can be implemented on a general-purpose computer hardware by merely adding insignificant, conventional and routine steps implicit in the abstract idea itself, the CAFC found Ultramerical's patent US 7,346,545 eligible since many of the claimed steps require intricate and complex computer programming which transforms a general-purpose into a special-purpose computer performing particular functions.

The diverging decisions both refer to something like the "technical character" or "technical implementation" of the claimed business principle. The respective grounds are very interesting as they seem to converge towards the European view on patent eligibility based on the notion of "technicality". Before the background of European patent law, however, it's safe to say that neither of the two patents would have survived, as their technical features are so trivial that they are notoriously known and cannot establish novelty and inventive step.

09 March 2013

Comparison of AIA and EPC as well as ante-AIA, post AIA and 'real' first-to-file prior art


In a new posting on the ksnh::law blog titled "10 aspects of the AIA that are (somehow) comparable to European provisions" we discuss the following new provisions of the America Invents Act and their link to European patent law:
  1. grace period
  2. prior public use
  3. intervening rights
  4. usurpation and derivation
  5. post grant review
  6. covered business method review
  7. third-party submissions
  8. supplemental examination
  9. prior use rights
  10. patent marking
Further to that, one of the most interesting aspects of the AIA is the way the conversion from first-to-invent to first-to-file is implemented and the impact on the definition of relevant prior art.

The two main changes to prior art can be found in 35 USC § 102 (a) and (b). While the former relates prior public use and intervening rights to the new notion of "effective filing date" (cf. 35 U.S.C. § 100(i)(1)), by that ending the Himer doctrine of 1966, the latter introduces an individual type of grace period combining elements of the ante-AIA first-to-invent and a classical first-to-file grace period. These issues have been discussed to some extent in sections 1 to 3 of this ksnh::law posting (English) and in this ksnh::jur posting (German).

Before this background it is worthwhile to not ony compare ante-AIA with post-AIA prior art, but also post-AIA prior art with the prior art in a classical first-to-file regime with grace period:

Post-AIA prior art versus classical first-to-file with grace period:
  • The post-AIA grace period excludes third-party disclosure of an invention published between an own disclosure of the inventor within the grace period and the actual filing date. In contrast thereto, the classical first-to-file grace period excluded only own disclosure of the inventor within the grace period while all third-party disclosure before the filing date is considered regular prior art.    
  • In the post-AIA era, intervening rights - i.e. patent applications filed before but published after the effective filing date of an invention under examination - are relevent for both novelty and obviousness, while, in a pure first-to-file scheme, such rights usually are only relevant for novelty but not for inventive step. 
Ante-AIA versus post-AIA prior art: 
  • prior public and commercial use are now relevant anywhere in the world (post-AIA) and not any more upon occurrance in the United States only (post-AIA).
  • the relevant date for determining as to whether or not a reference is regular prior art is the "effective filing date" of an application, i.e. either its filing date or its priority date independent on where the priority application has actually been filed. 
  • This new notion ends the Hilmer doctrine of 1966 and has the effect that in the post-AIA era intervening rights are independent on whether or not the priority application has been filed in the US, while in the ante-AIA era only US applications could qualify for an intervening right status. 


26 February 2013

Intellectual Property Aspects of 3D Printing (German)

On the ksnh::jur blog, we recently posted the first two articles of a series on the IP aspects of the fascinating new technology of 3D printing which, according to our perception, has the potential to raise totally new questions and pose new challenges to the IP system. I will continue in German, the language of the two articles:
Das 3D-Printing hat das Potential einer Disruptive Technology, die bestehende Technologien, Produkt oder Dienstleistungen möglicherweise vollständig verdrängt - ähnlich wie die Transistortechnologie einstmals die Röhrens- und Relaisindustrie untergehen ließ. Es könnte nämlich sein, dass das 3D-Printing einen Übergang von teuren, zentralisierten Fertigungsstätten hin zu einer Vielzahl dezentraler Einrichtungen ermöglicht, analog der PC-Revolution, bei der die zuvor zentralisierte EDV ab den 1970er Jahren durch eine unüberschaubaren Landschaft von billigen, dezentral betriebenden Personal-Computern faktisch abgelöst wurde.



Ähnlich wie bei der Software für solche Computer wird es sich auch mit den beim 3D-Printing benötigten Datenmodellen verhalten, die über das Internet genau so ausgetauscht werden, wie heutzutage Software und audiovisuelle Digtalwerke - teilweise entgeltlich über reguläre Märkte und teilweise unentgeltlich über Tauschbörsen.

Daneben wird der Preisverfall bei 3D-Meßvorrichtungen fortschreiten, mit denen aus einem körperlichen Werkstück ein räumliches 3D-Datenmodell abgeleitet werden kann, so dass beispielsweise Kunststoff-Ersatzteile privat oder in einem 3D-Copyshop in ein Datenmodell umgesetzt und dann einfach nachzuproduziert werden können.

Dieses Szenario bringt eine Vielzahl rechtlicher Fragen mit sind, ähnlich dem Filesharing bei urheberrechtlich geschützen Software-, Audio- oder Videodateien heute. Neben dem Urheberrecht kommt aber auch das Patent- und Geschmacksmusterrecht ins Spiel. Hierbei sind Fragestellungen zu erwarten, die über das hinausgehen, was seit vielen Jahren im Bereich des Filesharing diskutiert wird.

So stellt sich beispielsweise die Frage, ob es Hersteller von Erstatzteilen hinnehmen müssen, wenn z.B. Brillengestelle, Smartphone-Gehäuseteile oder Rasenmähermotor-Abdeckungen privat in 3D-Datenmodelle umgesetzt und Dritten über das Internet frei zur Verfügung gestellt werden, z.B. im Rahmen einer öffetlichen Geometriedatenbank. Können solche Datenbanken frei verkäuflicher Artikel rechtlich unterbunden werden?

Die sich aus solchen Fragestellung im Zusammenhang mit dem Austausch von digitalen, technische und/oder ästhetische Produkte betreffenden Daten ergebenden patent- und geschmacksmusterrechtlichen Überlegungen machen deutlich, wie sehr die derzeitige begriffliche Ausgestaltung des Patent- und Geschmacksmusterrechtes noch in den Vorstellungen körperlicher industrieller Produktion des 20. Jahrhunderts verhaftet ist.


(Photo 2010 von Creative Tools via Flickr unter einer CC Lizenz)

21 February 2013

Representation before the Unified Patent Court from the point of view of the Rules of Procedure

In this earlier posting I sketched the contradictory positions of general lawyer associations (e.g. CCBE) and more patent-related organisations (e.g. epi and CEIPI) as to the authorisation rights before the Unified Patent Court (UPC), back then called European and EU Patents Court (EEPC).


As analysed on the ksnh::law blog in an article titled Representation before the UPC: Are some Patent Attorneys authorised without Patent Litigation Certificate?, there are four groups of legal professionals defined in Article 48 UPCA and Rule 286 RoP that will be entitled to autonomously represent cases before the new court:
  1. lawyers authorised to practise before a court of a Contracting Member State,

  2. jurists authorised to practice in patent related matters before a court in a Contracting Member State, 
  3. European Patent Attorney having obtained the European Patent Litigation Certificate, and
  4. European Patent Attorney having an appropriate qualification.
While no 1 relates to attorneys-at-law, there are some good reasons that no 2 may cover legally trained patent professionals who are authorised to only practice in patent related matters before a court of a Contracting Member State, such as e.g. German or British patent attorneys.

Further, no 3 relates to European Patent Attorneys according to Art 134 EPC having obtained the European Patent Litigation Certificate which may be obtained by attending a course similar to the Patent Litigation in Europe program of CEIPI in Strassbourg, while no 4 might relate to European Patent Attorneys having alternative qualifications such as an LL.M.degree in IP law or practical litigation expertise proved by a case book.


19 February 2013

Unitary Patent Court agreement signed today by 24 of 27 EU member states

As announced in this press release, 24 EU member states have signed the Unified Patent Court agreement today in Brussels in an official signing ceremony.

The UPC signatories are in alphabetical order:
  • Austria
  • Belgium 
  • Czech Republic
  • Cyprus
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • Netherlands
  • Portugal
  • Romania
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Sweden
  • United Kingdom
Bulgaria is expected to sign in the coming days once internal procedures have been completed. Poland and Spain did not sign the agreement.

While Poland has become increasingly critical about signing the agreement (see here and here) and Italy still opposes the Unitary Patent due to language issues, Spain still rejects the whole package.

To enter into force, the Unified Patent Court Agreement needs to be ratified by at least 13 of the 24 signing states, including Germany, the United Kingdom, and France as mandatory parties of the agreement. 

As reported on ksnh.::law earlier this afterneen, the so called Friends of the Presidency Group will meet in Brussels on 27 February 2013 (see agenda) to exchange information on national ratification processes and the setting up of the Preparatory Committee.

(Photo: Council of the European Union)